Two weeks ago, Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan grew frustrated with his players during practice. A video of Gulutzan smashing his stick and throwing it into the stands went viral, and the players were forced to take the criticism.
The Flames were just coming off of a 4-3 home win against the Los Angeles Kings. It was the team’s second straight win against a formidable opponent. But Gulutzan wasn’t having any of it during his rant (via the Calgary Sun):
“We win one (bleeping) game … One (bleeping) game. We’re so (bleeping) good? You check the (bleeping) standings? Let’s (bleeping) go — (bleeping) practice.
I’ve seen one good game from some of you (bleeping) veteran guys. Let’s (bleeping) practise. Let’s go!”
Calgary has gone 5-0-0 since Gulutzan scolded the team, bringing their winning streak up to seven games. They entered play on Saturday with 54 points – tied for second with the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division.
Throw an overdue slump and slide by the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Flames may just win their first division crown since 2006. And it’s not just the way this team has played in recent weeks that has me convinced. It’s the fact this team is dangerous in all three aspects of the ice. They have a roster that’s constructed to go all the way this spring.
The Flames are led up front by the dynamic scoring duo of Johnny Gaudreau (15 goals and 54 points), and Sean Monahan (21 goals and 42 points). Matthew Tkachuk, Micheal Ferland and Mikael Backlund should all finish with 50-point seasons, too.
Only the Nashville Predators can attest to the Flames’ blue line depth. 6-foot-6 giant Dougie Hamilton and perennial standout Mark Giordano anchor one of the league’s top defensive units. These two go up against the top lines every night, and both take over games with smooth skating and puck-movement.
Calgary also had T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic, a tough duo who can wear down opponents with their physical styles of play. This is a legitimate top-four unit. 29 other teams wish they had this blue line.
And oh, the Flames finally have a legitimate No. 1 goalie in Mike Smith. GM Brad Treliving made a gutsy call to pull the plug on the Brian Elliott project and trade for the veteran Arizona Coyotes’ netminder.
Smith has come better than advertised, sporting a 20-13-3 record with a 2.46 goals against average and .924 save percentage. The Flames haven’t had a goalie like that since Miikka Kiprusoff in his prime, and that was nearly a decade ago. With Smith at the helm, the Flames are rolling.
So you got the Flames who are dangerous all over the ice? Guys who can score. Guys who can hit. Guys who can defend. And a guy who can simply stop the pucks. This team is a Cup contender, alright.
But what else also favors the Flames? The Western Conference doesn’t look as strong as before – more specifically the Pacific Division.
The Edmonton Oilers – whom many expected to be a Stanley Cup contender in 2018 – are going to contend to win yet another draft lottery. So much for the Battle of Alberta reigning supremacy in the Pacific together. It’s the Calgary show, only.
As for the Anaheim Ducks? No doubt they’re a scary team. They’ve eliminated the Flames in the playoffs three times since the lockout – in 2006, 2015 and 2017. But this Ducks team has not been so dominant in 2017-18, and they’re no guarantee to make the playoffs.
Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry have all been injured and are showing signs of slowing down. The losses of Shea Theodore and Sami Vatanen have been a big blow to a once-stacked defensive core.
The Kings and Sharks are playoff threats, but not Cup contenders. Both have aging and slow rosters that probably wouldn’t be able to keep up to the Flames in a best-of-seven series.
Envision this scenario: The Flames draw the second seed in the Pacific. If they can take care of home advantage in a playoff series, they could very well draw the Golden Knights in Round 2. Now, who do you think would win that series? A lucky expansion team that’s played way over their heads? Or an experienced team with more star power and depth all over the roster?
The Flames could very have a simple path to the Western Conference Final. Once it comes down to the final four, it’s anybody’s game to win. And there aren’t any teams who are that much better than Calgary.
Canada hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993. The Flames still feel they were cheated out of a 2004 championship victory (see Martin Gelina’s no-goal in Game 6). But if the Flames continue to play like the contender we’ve come to know and love, it’s not far-fetched to believe they can win the 2018 Stanley Cup.
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